Newsmaker – Zweli Mkhize: ‘I’ll review Chancellor House if I need to’

2013-08-25 14:00

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Zweli Mkhize has mixed feelings about leaving the comfort of his home province for his new role in charge of the ANC’s purse.

Zweli Mkhize is ambivalent.

A few hours ago, he was in Durban, announcing the end of his term as KwaZulu-Natal premier.

Now, on Thursday afternoon, he is in transit at Joburg’s OR Tambo International Airport en route to Malaysia with President Jacob Zuma.

How did he feel when breaking the news about his resignation?

“A bit tense, a bit of a relief, but it is also a change of an era for me,” he says.

In what could ultimately prove to be a poisoned chalice, Mkhize was handed the ANC’s purse strings as treasurer at a time when the economy is dipping and opposition to the ruling party is growing.

At the airport, Mkhize waits for us at the top of an elevator, with no entourage, carrying his own luggage.

He greets us with a hug and a smile.

We go to the Intercontinental Hotel, where he meets what looks like a businessman and then ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu.

When it’s our turn, Mkhize insists he doesn’t want to be photographed in public, so we scramble to find a more private space.

Mkhize’s election to the full-time position of ANC treasurer-general in December sparked speculation that he would leave KwaZulu-Natal, but this has always been denied.

ANC sources in the province have also made unattributed comments in the media about wanting him out, reportedly not liking his close association with Zuma.

So was he pushed, ultimately?

Mkhize snorts. Some “wishful thinkers” wanted him out of the province since 1999.

“All of that didn’t matter because I never left. This time I was elected publicly, in a conference, so whether you like gossip or not, I was going to leave at some point, but nobody knew what day it was going to be, not even I,” he says.

Juggling his responsibilities as premier and treasurer-general became difficult, so resigning was ultimately a relief.

The medical doctor had worked in KwaZulu-Natal since returning from exile in 1991.

In 1994, he became MEC, initially for health and later for finance, and served under four premiers before being appointed premier himself in 2009, following his election as ANC chairperson the year before.

Senzo Mchunu, who replaced him as ANC provincial chairperson in March, was sworn in as acting premier and is tipped to succeed him.

Before leaving the province, Mkhize wanted to see through government plans and the budget, and finally the lekgotla on Tuesday and Wednesday, which mapped a programme until next year’s general elections.

“Whatever we have done here is now part of a handover. The decisions that we have taken, we have done when all together.”

The DA is rejoicing.

The party’s provincial leader, Sizwe Mchunu, reckons Mkhize had become an even more absent premier following his election as an ANC official.

“He has never been a full-time, hands-on premier,” he said, claiming there had been more promises than delivery in Mkhize’s term.

But the province recently received a clean audit report, something the ANC has commended Mkhize for.

Mkhize is set to move to Joburg next month, but will keep his Pietermaritzburg home.

“There is no ‘for sale’ sign on any house and I was actually quite irritated (with the stories that I’m selling it),” he said.

He hopes to still spend time in his home province, partly to tend to a family farm there.

He also wants to get involved in rural development and food security programmes.

He might even venture into business.

“Up to now I have not been involved in business, but I will consider it. Now I don’t have to worry about anything, I’m not a government official,” he says.

He feels strongly, however, that business should be free from undue political influence.

This also goes for those who donate to the ANC.

“Any business must be based on its technical expertise, its business case, its value for money and enterprise – that is what must define any business.

“If any political benefits come out of that, it must be because it is making money in terms of a good business decision. It must not be because it is linked to so and so or a political party,” he says.

He sighs when asked about the ANC’s controversial investment arm, Chancellor House, which owns 25% of Hitachi Power Africa, a company that won a R20?billion Eskom tender in 2007.

The question crops up in every interview.

The decision to establish Chancellor House as a party fundraising vehicle was taken before his time.

But, according to him, it’s something that could be reviewed if there are any conflicts of interest in transactions.

For example, he says, if any company owned by Chancellor House gets a government contract, “it must be a minor party (in that business) and not have a controlling stake”.

He adds: “You should deal with it like that and I think you will probably get a safe situation where you don’t feel like you’re throwing with the one hand and catching with the other.”

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